22 October 2012

Sad Cycling Day

The inevitable came to fruition today as Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.  I wrote about Armstrong and reality at the end of August (click here for that post). In that post, I gave a list of the runners up for the seven races Armstrong won.  I suppose we have a new reality now as men who thought they finished behind Armstrong will learn that they have new cycling glory as their names sit atop a scratched-out Lance Armstrong, even if those men are not the official winners.

It's a sad day for cycling.  Whether or not you were a fan of Armstrong, and he could certainly be a polarizing figure, the sport of cycling now has a huge hole in the history of its greatest race.  It's sad that the sport had such a culture of cheating that young cycling professionals felt that the only hope for a level playing field was to acquiesce to that culture.  As a 42-year-old physicist comfortable in my career, I may be tempted to admonish a young cyclist for not taking a moral stand, but that young cyclist most likely didn't have too many career options.  It's easy to say that cheating is wrong no matter what, but life is immensely more complicated than such easy moral absolutes.

If Armstrong cheated, and the copious evidence seems overwhelming that he did, he absolutely deserves what is happening to him.  It's sad, though, for all the people who were so taken by his story of beating cancer and reaching the summit of the cycling world.  So much of history is riddled with tragedy that seeking heroes might not be best for us.  I feel the personal sting of having a book chapter that was dedicated to Armstrong's amazing Tour de France feats suddenly feel like fiction instead of sports science.

Dedicating my life to science helps me accept the direction to which evidence points.  Science seeks to get ever closer to the truth through investigations in the natural world.  Sometimes, the evidence takes us to places we never thought we'd go.  Today, the evidence took the cycling world to a sad place.